0

Lessons from the Playground: Racism, COVID, & White Silence

By July 11, 2020Articles
Photo by Octavio Valencia

New York City reopened playgrounds recently after being shut down due to the Coronavirus pandemic. We’re still figuring our playground game out — please share how you’re navigating this!

I’m a firm believer that the playground is a breeding ground for politics, activism, joy, and growth. (If you missed it, check out this post about building better foundations from the playground up). I’m part of a very active neighborhood Parenting Facebook Group. *A few days ago, a mom posted that her young Asian child approached a 5-year-old (race untold) with whom to play. When approached, the other child refused play and said, “You have COVID.”

The comments following the mother’s retelling were wild – ranging from parents defending the 5-year-old (for being a child, confused by CoVid, modeling messages they’ve heard, arguing that race wasn’t a factor in their comment,) to parents arguing about whose job it is to jump in and say something (if anything), to the few parents pointing out race and impact as a factor in the comment. The mother’s attempt to shed light on the impact of implicit bias and racism was silenced with parents quick to defend, deflect even the possibility of racism.

This is hard, friends.  Parenting, living in a global pandemic, figuring out how to re-enter society with all our worries and wants and needs, knowing when to speak up and when to listen.  All of this is true, AND, race is always a factor. (And thus, parenting white kids as a white woman isn’t nearly as hard as it is for BIPOC parents parenting BIPOC children).  

I’ve been talking to many of you recently about the necessity of the AND. 

What would it be like to imagine that the 5-year-old was both a little unsure about how to express themselves and their fears about COVID, AND that anti-Asian racism exists (and therefore none of us — even 5-year-olds) are exempt from being formed by racisms ugliness? Further, what would it look like to parent (in the most general definition of the word) our young with an “AND” mindset as often as possible?

I wasn’t there, (and comments were turned off on the post by the time I got to it), but if I were, I hope I’d say something like this to the 5-year-old:

“Hi! I see that you’re aware that COVID is a real disease that we want to protect ourselves from.  I’m so glad you’re doing your best to protect yourself and your neighbors! Is there a reason you think this child has CoVid?”  

It’s fairly unlikely that the 5-year-old will say it was because they’re Asian.  If they do – you can go right at it! But more than likely, they won’t name race as a factor – they may be embarrassed, or they may not even be aware of the subconscious bias already at work in their mind. In that omission, it’s OUR job to say something like this:

“It’s important that we remember that ANYONE can have COVID, not just kids who are Asian or who have brown or Black skin or who otherwise look different than you.  Hurtful things are said about Asians and the Coronavirus, and we want to make sure we’re not adding to that hurt by assuming that anyone who is Asian has COVID.  How does that sound to you?  Do you want to be part of helping spread kindness and love to everyone?” 

The kid will likely say yes….Then you can role-play what you COULD say to friends on the playground if you’re feeling unsafe or worried about the virus.

All children are dealing with mental distress and questions we never dealt with because of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the long term effects on them are unknown.  Nevertheless, what we can’t do in this moment is fail to be the parents we want to be. The parents we MUST be. For white parents, this may be the moment we begin speaking up about racism.  Let’s don’t miss it.  Our speaking up is 400+ years overdue.

*Story is retold with permission from the parent.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.